Fun facts about European motorways

European motorways

Popular culture has always mythologised the motorway, the European equivalent of the US highway. Musically, Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn”, Tom Robinson’s “2-4-6-8 Motorway” or Julio Iglesias’ “La Carretera,” whose chorus, in translation, goes “Continuing on the highway looking for you, at the end of my way I will find you, I'll accelerate” may well have formed part of the soundtrack of your youth. Songs aside, there are many other fascinating aspects to Europe’s motorways.

In the beginning, was it the Autostrada or Autobahn?

Italy’s Piero Puricelli, an engineer and later a senator built the first “autostrada” or motorway in Europe in 1923, connecting a 42.6 km stretch of countryside between Lainate, north-west of Milan and the Italian lakes. There was a single lane in each direction, both of which were closed to traffic between 1am and 6am with tolls payable at service stations. (source: Its German equivalent, the autobahn, the result of a project launched by Konrad Adenauer, then lord mayor of Cologne, later German Chancellor from 1949 to 1963, opened in 1932 linking Cologne and Bonn. (source: DW)

A long story

Across the 28 members of the EU, there were 76,823 km of motorway in 2016, up from 42,176 km in 1990.  The EU countries with the largest motorway networks are:

  1. Spain with 15,444 km
  2. Germany with 12,996 km
  3. France with 11,612 km
  4. Italy with 6,943 km
  5. UK with 3,768 km

Several EU countries such as Malta and Latvia have no motorways. (source: EU Mobility and Transport statistical pocketbook 2018)


Europe forms part of the international E-road network of motorways, a numbering system developed by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) which includes countries that border EU states such as Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. The longest E-road is the E 40 which covers 8,500 km from France to Kazakhstan. The highest E-road in Europe is the E 62 reaching 2,005 m altitude at the Simplon Pass, in Switzerland. The lowest is the E 39 which drops to 262 m below sea level in the Bømlafjord Tunnel in Norway. Norway also hosts the longest tunnel on an E-road and in the world, the 24,510 m Lærdal Tunnel on the E 16. Scandinavia is home to the longest bridge on an E-road, namely the Øresund Bridge, on the E 20 which spans 7,845 m between Denmark and Sweden. (source: Wikipedia)

It all takes a toll

Tolls are required on 51,456 km of motorway in Europe. Tolls on toll roads are collected through 27,346 electronic toll collection (ETC) lanes. 26.66 million drivers subscribe to ETC payment schemes. (source: ASECAP – the European toll operators association) Andorra has the lowest total length of toll roads with 4.2 km. Germany has the highest total with 15,306 km. (source: ASECAP)

Running out of gas

No one likes to run out of diesel for their trucks or be too far away from a service station for a rest or a bite to eat. In 2017, the European Petroleum Refiners Association produced a survey of the number of petrol stations in Europe. It reported that there were over 130,000 petrol stations in the EU, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey in 2016. They had refuelled over 34 million trucks and close to 250 million cars. Despite only having the 4th largest motorway network in Europe, Italy has 20,750 petrol stations, the most in Europe. More than Germany with 14,510, Turkey with 12,521 and France with 11,200.

Apps to the rescue

Smartphone apps such as Truck Parking Europe or the International Transport Forum’s TRANSPark app can help truck drivers find their nearest service stations and secured parking facilities on or close to motorways.

Smart motorways

The EU has committed itself to developing smart motorways using technology including sensors and the Internet of Things to manage the flow of traffic on motorways and other major roads. Today smart motorways use cameras to manage and monitor driver speed and the number of lanes in use. As part of Active Traffic Management (ATM)  systems, variable speed cameras can analyse traffic flow and display the appropriate speeds on roadside panels  to ensure that traffic continues to flow. Where available, ATM can also bring into action an additional lane to ease congestion.

Other interesting smart motorway applications include one for equipping highways to charge vehicles as they drive along the road, which is being developed by the Chinese government. Another application is using technology to heat roads, thereby maintaining snow- and ice-free roads for safer and smarter road travel. (source: GovernmentEuropa)

TIP trailer rental and the motorways of Europe

TIP specialises in providing trailer leasing and rental solutions covering all types of trailers including semi-trailers, flatbeds, curtainsiders and more. With a transport fleet of close to 70,000 units, TIP is one of Europe’s leading transport equipment rental companies.

To ensure that your trailers are kept in top condition for motorway travel, we offer further value-added services including an outsourced maintenance and repair programme from our network of 93 trailer workshops across Europe as well as pan-European roadside assistance for your trailers 24/7, 365 days per year. TIP brings support in 18 languages. You can reach its roadside assistance contact numbers in 16 European countries.

In April 2019, TIP is opening its first safe and secure truck parking area, DELTA PARK A1 / E17,  which is 30 km south of Lille in France at the junction of the A1 / E17 and the A21.

For more information about how TIP Trailer Services can help you on the motorways of Europe, you can always contact us.